Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A blind alley - the porn debate

I have spent quite a lot of my time lately surfing around various blogs written by sex workers. It has been very interesting. I have seen humour, passion and anger and some very fine writing.

They talk about a world far removed from my experience. A world, moreover, which is both demonised and mythologised. I have read and been impressed by Andrea Dworkin and I have seen and been impressed by "Boogie Nights". Dworkin's analysis, when I read her many years ago, struck me as convincing and that porn was instrumental in the subjugation of women. And yet, her insights were later used by right wing christian moralists in the service of their vision of a return to family values. This struck me, and still does, as a horrible irony - that feminist analysis should bequeath as its legacy intellectual respectability to bigots and moralists.

Something does not quite seem to fit here. To me, feminism was the herald of an end to tyranny - of the move away from power/over to power/with. As a man, I saw the struggle not simply as "women's liberation" but as "human liberation". I still do. I have posted before about the patriarch within. His ways are subtle and they revel in the concept of "absolute truth". It thrives in the world of duality, of us and them, of good and evil, of right and wrong. Of the sheep and the goats, the damned and the saved. It is clever, and can hijack any movement to suit its own ends.

The women I have read lately do not seem to be subjugated - on the contrary, they are clearly well capable of fighting their corner. They are far removed from the category of victim. They also seem to be active in supporting those who are unwilling participants in the industry in which they themselves earn their livings. The posts are certainly illuminating - I must confess to a certain surprise when hearing of the preparation needed prior to a porn shoot which features anal sex. But I suppose that if I had given the matter any thought I would have realised that such would be necessary.

That being said, I find most porn that I have seen to be repulsive. I have gone into sex shops here in Budapest and been, I suppose, shocked to see the amount of coprophilia and bestiality available on DVD here. I find it difficult to imagine that women can willingly take part in such activities. But maybe they can. Taboo breaking does have its appeal, but being covered in shit is not one that I find tempting in any way, neither as participant nor observer.

But there is porn I have enjoyed. I like to see naked women - I find the female body both beautiful and mysterious. For me, it is the "other" - a state of being to which I can never aspire - experience which is forever alien to me. My reactions are sometimes lustful but often simply a sense of wonder and joy. Inanna found her body wonderful and so do I. I also wonder at my own form - not as firm, slim and smooth as in my youth - but still serving me well.

Sexuality and desire are not neat - neither can they be rendered ideologically sound. Fantasy and dreams can take me into places that do not fit with my own set of values. These fantasies preceded the availability of porn and have not been modified by it. I have, for example, no desire to ejaculate on any woman's face nor do I enjoy watching it being done by others.

The world we live in is nowhere near ideal. Its value system is totally out of synch with the needs of both human beings and the planet we live in. We are obsessed with the sex lives of others and pretend outrage at the antics of celebs when in fact, they may be living out those fantasies we wish to deny and repress. It is easier to point at those outside than to acknowledge our own leanings towards the ideology we are trying to oppose. So, sex workers can only be admitted into discourse if they accept that they are "fallen women" - but not if they insist that they are free agents who have exercised choice.

I have followed many links to both sides of the "divide" and have come across some rather frightening stuff in the anti camp. One was a link to a woman, highly praised and described as an ex sex worker who was involved in helping women get out of the trade/industry. As I read it became clear that her desire was not to liberate but to "bring them to Jesus" with tracts and sermons. Another was to a site about a 12 step programme for "sex addicts". There is a diagnostic questionnaire here - and it seems, having played around a bit, that any deviation from normal, traditional, morality is deemed to be addictive behaviour. And on yet a third link, aomeone seriously suggests that porn stars should "not be allowed" to have children. Eugenics, anyone? Compulsory sterilisation? That has been done before.

This sort of stuff gets us nowhere. All it does is to divert attention from the real issues of slavery and consent. The sex industry will not be wished, argued or even legislated away. The people involved are human beings, the people opposed are also human beings. That is the only starting point. This whole interest of mine started with a post from Debs. How about everybody listening to each other?

For whatever we think of porn, it is fulfilling a need that people perceive. This need is a result of the culture in which we live. My feeling is that we need to look to the roots - for that is what "radical" means. And the roots are not porn - they are not even men - they live in the notion that one group of people are intrinsically superior and more valuable than another. It started perhaps with men over women but has extended into all our interactions and our thoughts.

And the start of our journey out of this mess is, I believe, the simple statement - "I may be wrong, but....". If I do not see hear this said or implied then I see little value in further exploration of anyone's thoughts.

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